Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come, Lord Jesus

Another Advent is here! I love this season, full of mystery, longing, hope and anticipation.



"Come, Lord Jesus!" is the cry of Advent. And there are so many ways I need Jesus to come. So many lives He needs to break into...so many situations that cry out for divine intervention. Having done what I can think of to do, having prayed the prayers I can think of to pray, often the only thing left to do is cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

And not only in the lives of others--I need the Lord to come into my life. Distractions cloud my vision, my prayers, my priorities. Advent is a season that reminds me to wake--not slumber--to watch, in the darkness, for the light. I invite God to come again into my life, to re-orient my perspective. "Come, Lord Jesus," my heart cries. "Come into every area of my heart--every darkened corner, every slumbering resolution, every helpless hope, probe every tender spot. I give you access, Lord; come." 

The Advent parable of the ten virgins always speaks to me--the five who weren't prepared and wanted to borrow oil from the five who had brought extra. May the Lord find me not trying to borrow from someone else's faith or experience, but actively engaged in listening to Him and serving Him in the unique ways He's called me. In this parable, there is also the image of waking from slumber and going in to the marriage feast--the promise of joy, the anticipation of fulfillment of all things. Yet there is mystery in this parable. We slumber in the night, as we wait, our lamps burning in expectation of that hour.

The December days may be busy, but the nights--longer and longer as we creep toward Christmas--remind me to pray for the light to break into the darkness. Come, Light of Christ.

But Advent is not all longing and expectation. Even as we pray for his coming into our lives and the lives of those we love, even as we anticipate his coming at the end of all things, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, we rejoice in the Good News:  He came! Advent brings us daily closer to Christmas and the celebration of his first coming. It's a down payment, if you will, that He will make good on his promises.

There is a longing, in Advent, for what we haven't got...for what we need, in Christ. But we can long with anticipation of our hopes being fulfilled, because there has been fulfillment. When we didn't even know our need, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, He died. While we wait in darkness and unknowing, He knows. He is Lord...He will come.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bullet Points

--The younger three kids were in a musical and I never even mentioned it here, even though B15 was cast in the leading role of Peter Pan! Chicklet played a lovely, green-haired mermaid and B9 was appropriately cast as a dirty-faced, tousle-haired Lost Boy.

--Papa Rooster got roped in (pun intended) to "flying" Peter Pan backstage, which turned out to be one of the most strenuous things he's ever done! B15 is a solid 150 pounds, and even with the magic of physics cutting that number in half, 75 pounds is a lot of weight to lift with a single rope. He destroyed a pair of good weight-lifting gloves on the first night, letting Peter Pan descend quickly a couple of times, and he had to order the kind that special forces use to slide down ropes out of helicopters. He still isn't wearing his rings yet. His fingers and forearms were so swollen that week, even though he was constantly icing them.

--He said though it was way harder than he thought it would be, he also had a lot more fun than he thought he'd have! The only sad thing was that he never could watch the show or take any photos at a dress rehearsal. I need to try and get some images from the professional photographer to do a picture post, eventually...

--On All Saints' at Light of Christ, we received 8 new members and baptized 4 children from one of the new families. It was such a wonderful morning!

--A new session of theater began this week. I'm happy to be teaching Drama 1 to a large class of 16 kids, many of them new to our program, and I'm super-excited about the script I've been working on for our final project, based on one of my favorite children's books, The Phantom Tollbooth. B15 is taking Improv, Chicklet12 was thrilled to make it into an audition-only dance class called Project Dance, Jr., and B9 is excited that in his Musical Theater class, they are doing songs from the same Hercules that I helped direct a year ago, and they are going to wear the same costumes!

--Auditions for the winter show, Beauty and the Beast, are this Friday!

--Our Classical Conversations-based co-op is going well--such a nice group of families. However, it was starting to feel like more time than it was worth for Chicklet and me, and I was considering quitting. But there is no one else who can teach the grammar and writing classes that I teach. It was a huge learning curve for me last year--the grammar, especially, is a huge amount of material to present in 45 minutes for a multi-level class, and the curriculum leaves it up to the teacher to decide how to do that. I've had to find or create my own examples, worksheets, games and more.

--They will have to figure something else out for next year, but for this year, they proposed that instead of coming for the whole day, I just come for the classes I teach in the afternoon. (And for lunch, right before that, so we can still socialize!) A friend brings Chicklet in the morning, and another mom stepped in to teach the Fine Arts class I had been teaching in the morning session. We're tried it for two weeks, and that extra morning in my week made a bigger difference than I thought it would! I am so grateful.

--This weekend I am hosting a Golden Birthday Party for Blondechick, who will be 22 on the 22nd, and a baby shower for a friend from church. My goal this week is to deal with remaining boxes and piles of stuff I've unpacked but don't know what to do with. I may end up shoving them all in the attic until next summer.

--One silver lining to not finishing the attic yet is that we can use it as an attic! A couple weekends ago, our strong young men plus a couple of their friends helped us move many boxes and some furniture out of the basement and into the attic. The basement is still a huge unorganized mess, but we're getting there.

--Finally, our decrepit garage was showing signs of not making it through the winter. A few weeks ago, the garage door stopped going all the way up, and we realized it was because one corner of the garage had sunk alarmingly and the garage door track was now at an angle. We knew from the housing inspection that the garage was in trouble--all the sills, which were laid directly on the ground instead of on cement--are rotten, and they can't just be replaced because it's impossible to get jacks underneath the garage walls because...oh, it's too involved. Everyone thought we could wait till next spring to figure it out--but apparently not! A friend who's a builder came yesterday and started work on a temporary fix to save it till next summer. It won't be as simple as just building a new garage, though, because we would not be allowed to build a new garage on the same spot--it's too close to the lot line. I'm just glad we can kick the problem a little further down the road, for now!

--Off to defer more difficulties till next summer...I've got to go select stuff to shove into an attic. ;)

Friday, October 24, 2014

October Eightieth Birthday!

My dad is turning 80 next week! We HAD to get together for such a momentous occasion, but finding even one day that we could all be present--in Ohio--during the school year--proved impossible. Our overlapping day ended up on a Sunday, so Father Rooster could not be present (having just taken off two Sundays in a row earlier in the month). Blondechick and Bantam19 had to leave in the mid-afternoon to be back for work and school Monday morning, but the rest of us were able to adjust our schedules to travel on Saturday and Monday--even Professor Brother and his family, all the way from Kansas!

It was a whirlwind, but it was totally worth it.

For one thing, we were able to take a first-ever photo of ALL the grandchildren! We have previous editions...but either some grandkids weren't born yet, or we were missing some of the young adults. Here they ALL are!


And here they are looking more like they normally do.


One with Grandma and Grandpa...


...and one with me, my brothers, and my parents.


On Sunday morning, we all dressed up and went to the First Baptist Church, where my family has attended for generations.


B15 can't pass a piano without trying it out. :)


Pilot Brother and his Caterer/Coffee Shop Owner wife provided all the food for lunch, snacks, dinner and of course, birthday cake!


"Johnny Q-Whistle Paperlegs" is what the hired man called my dad when he was a kid. "John Henry Dewberry Brown" was another nickname he was saddled with, by his uncle, but the first one is even more colorful, don't you think?

Dinner was a wiener roast!


While we were toasting marshmallows for s'mores, I snapped this picture of the sunset. The trees in this woods are the scenery of my childhood--the backdrop to so many of my memories.


I was pleased with all that was captured in this next photo too. This is the view from the woods behind our house, looking toward the back of the house. The lit-up room is the addition that my parents put on about 15 years ago to their 1960's ranch, in anticipation of gatherings like these. In the foreground, you can see two ropes--one is a swinging rope, the other is to the tire swing that has occupied kids and grandkids for decades on end. With its headlights shining on a car in the driveway, that's a Toro Twister driving across the yard toward the house. My brother and dad use it for all kinds of tasks around the farm, as well as giving rides to the grandkids! Finally, the light directly above the Twister is a utility pole light that comes on every evening at dusk, and has been since I was a kid catching fireflies in its glow.


We wrapped up our day by watching old 8 mm movies. Some of them were 70 years old or more! In the first one, my dad was a kid in swimming trunks playing with a garden hose. It was easy to see where the hired man got the "paperlegs" part of his moniker--Dad's legs were paper white compared to the rest of him! And my, those legs looked familiar--just like Chicklet12's, right now. He was probably her age in the movie, but several of his grandchildren got his long, lean musculature. I had not realized how much B19 resembled his grandfather and great-grandfather, either! 

It was wonderful to see relatives and friends, and also the way the farm used to be--where the fences were, and the old gas tank, and the chicken yard, and the barn without the milk house, and the farmhouse without the front porch, and cows grazing where now there are no fences, and the trees! Today it would take two people to wrap their arms around some of the trunks, but back then one person could have, easily. 

It's a neat feeling to be connected to a place so deeply. I'm so thankful that my brother and his family have relocated there, giving us ongoing reasons to keep visiting there, and Lord willing, to keep the farm going and keep it in the family. I'm thankful that his children get to grow up there, that they have the run of the place the way my brothers and I did, growing up, and that my younger kids have cousins to visit when we go there. 

And I'm thankful for my dad, and his milestone birthday, for giving this goofy bunch a reason to get together and celebrate being us!


I


Monday, October 06, 2014

God's Victory

Well, I keep thinking, it's an interesting time to be us.

In the last week, we got three pieces of financial news, none of them things you'd want to hear at any time, but especially not when you've just made a big move, stepping out in faith, not knowing how God would provide. 

After the second piece of news, Papa Rooster and I looked at each other and both said the same thing:  "Gideon." It wasn't the first time that image had come to mind, as our resources had been diminished recently, first by new kitchen appliances and then by a new roof. Gideon, you remember, set out to defeat the enemy with a huge army, but God made him send men home, and then more and more men, till he was left with a fraction of his army. The reason? So that it would be clear that the victory would be God's, not attributable to the strength of men.

I'm sure Gideon, after that, wondered how exactly God expected him to defeat a huge army with just a handful of men. But it must have been clear to Gideon that God had a plan, and he would learn what it was once the battle began.

These setbacks--and one of them is a long-term adjustment--have been hugely disconcerting, raising many questions in our minds. But they have not caused us to doubt what God is doing--what we believe He showed us when He led us to this house. Not that He showed us the whole picture, but that it was the next step in what He was ultimately going to do in our family and in our church.

Like Gideon, I'm questioning how exactly He thinks we're going to be able to do this with such diminished resources...and I'm waiting to watch how He does it.

The truth is, we will be fine for awhile--but we may have to live on the money we had set aside to finish the attic (or at least to start the project with). Those plans are indefinitely on hold. It's such a disappointment, especially for Papa Rooster, whose office will have to remain in a corner of the living room (which is something of a sacrifice for the rest of us, too). But another truth is that we CAN live in the house as it is, without the third floor, and for that, we are so thankful!

I know many of you are wondering "What happened to him going full-time with the church?" Our vestry is working on that question! Circumstances are accelerating our need for income from the church. But it takes time for the wheels to turn, and we are still only a small body, with a small budget, and many members of our congregation are in difficult financial situations themselves.

I just keep asking, "How? How, God, are you going to do this?" 

It's possible, of course, that all could fail. We had friends who sold everything and moved overseas to do ministry, certain they were following God's direction, only to have that ministry fall apart. Months later, they were back in the States, starting over, reeling with questions for God. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us, right?

But I don't think it's going to end up that way. I have a peace that passes understanding-- and I'm the one who usually frets over finances. I have a strong sense that God is about to do something--something amazing--not all at once but over time, through Light of Christ. I think it's going to be such a powerful work that the Enemy is making last-ditch attempts to foil the plans of God. 

Our church has had a difficult summer. Papa Rooster has been under such an onslaught, trying to balance two jobs, two moves, teenagers, young adults, church needs and situations--and now financial worries. I can feel the stress too; my blood pressure is creeping up like it did for the first year or so after our move to Wisconsin. (My potassium is low, which could be contributing--at least I can do something about that!) 

Teresa of Avila, I am told, wrote once that she always worried about the new ministries (convents and monasteries) she established that didn't seem to have any difficulties--because they always failed. The ones that went on to be thriving works were always initially met with great opposition.

It has been encouraging to see the rise of intercessory prayer among certain individuals and groups at Light of Christ. My own prayer life has grown tremendously during this difficult season! If the Lord leads you, please pray for this work that God is raising up, that we cannot see clearly yet. We welcome your prayers for us personally too, but I believe we are just part of the bigger thing God is on the verge of doing. It will be His victory!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy Birthday, Chicklet12!

So I blew right by my baby girl's birthday! She was 12 on September 6. (We celebrated on Facebook. She enjoyed all the comments!) I think I'm in denial that she's really getting that old.

B19 took this awesome photo of his little sister

She's the only one being homeschooled this year, so that's been an interesting adjustment. Personally, I have been really struggling with motivation for homeschooling. All I want to do is finish unpacking! So many boxes down the basement and out in the garage still untouched. But every day there's something more important to take care of, it seems, like laundry or lesson planning for our classical co-op or making dinner, because I foolishly bought fresh veggies and now I have to use them or lose them! 

She seems to be struggling too. She's old enough to do her lessons without me, except when she has questions; she's also old enough to have a host of other interests, like making rubber band bracelets on a loom, weaving pot holders with a different kind of loom, writing stories, and building "lockers" in her bedroom. That's the one thing she's jealous of, about B9 going to school--they have lockers in his elementary building. The one she went to for third grade, near our old house, didn't. She tried creating her own out of cardboard boxes, but they just didn't have that satisfying metal clang.

She thinks maybe she'd like to go to middle school for 7th grade next year. (They're bound to have lockers, right? :) I'm open to considering it, especially if B9 returns to school for 5th grade, which is likely. So to prepare her for that possibility, the plan is for us to "get serious" this year and have her do more and work harder than she did for elementary school. I've told her that I want her doing something school-related from the time she gets up until the time B9 returns from school. 

To get herself motivated to do her schoolwork, she's been pretending that it's her job. She gets up, puts on her "uniform" (includes a button-down white shirt and blue tie), and asks for a cup of coffee, to make it "official." Then she spreads out her books on the library table and "goes to work"! She also rode her bike to the library a few times, with her books in a backpack. I asked her if any adult has questioned her about why she's not in school, but they haven't. I guess they can see she's doing schoolwork!

I have a yard sale scheduled for next weekend, so I'm in the midst of a big push to get boxes open, "stuff" sorted out, and price everything that we can't use in this house. Once that's over, I look forward to spending more time with my delightful 6th grader. We have promised ourselves that one class she's going to take this year is Home Ec, or whatever they are calling it nowadays. She's taking a sewing class that starts up soon and I look forward to helping her with that project. We also want to do a weekly cooking class for her and a friend. 

One of my big goals for her this year is to figure out where her math gaps are and make sure she's up to speed. We signed up for ALEKS, which is amazing at doing exactly that, and she is enjoying working on math for longer than she ever has before. Another goal I have is to get her reading longer books and reading for longer periods of time, and I've been thrilled that just this week, she started The Witch of Blackbird Pond and hasn't. been. able. to. put. it. down. 

I'm so thankful that she is in no hurry to become a teenager. She tells everyone that she likes being a "tweenager." She is definitely maturing in so many ways, and can be a very grown-up conversationalist, but she is refreshingly child-like and unashamed to still play with dolls, Barbies (she makes movies with them), and other imaginary games, including "Streets of Chicago" in which she and her brother travel around the "alleys" formed by stacked boxes in the basement, pretending they are homeless orphans who have to steal play food to survive. They also play restaurant with the play food, which is a deluxe wooden set that Chicklet bought with her own money two summers ago at a garage sale. (I thought she was too old for it, but she has proved me wrong many times over!) She has such a sensitive heart toward God and others, and is quick to comfort and to please.

We all love her so much. May she continue to grow in wisdom and stature (well, not too much or too quickly...I'd like to keep her in pants that are long enough for awhile) and in favor with God and others.






Thursday, September 11, 2014

Giving

Last night, I heard an older, wiser priest say that in his ministry, he's seen two blocks to the work of the Holy Spirit:  unwillingness to forgive, and unwillingness to give.

I've thought about the need for forgiveness to clear blockages in our lives before, so my mind instantly went to his point about giving. As I held it up before the Lord, wondering if there was something He wanted to unblock there, or a ministry He wanted us to give to...I was surprised to hear Him say, "You're doing it already. It's your house."

I guess it's apparent to my readers that I've been wrestling all summer with the decision we made to buy this house, and I'm still holding it up before the Lord. I know we bought the house He indicated. I know we are exactly where He wants us; I've received confirmation after confirmation. It's just that I wouldn't have picked a house that needed this much work, especially when we're not the handy types who can do stuff ourselves. (Although Papa Rooster did actually take apart the framing around a pocket door last week to get it back on track, which was a project of several hours, and it's almost as good as new, except for the shrieking the door makes as you close it the last four inches or so. It's our early warning system, telling us when the half bath is occupied.)

I felt God asking me to view the money we're investing in this home differently, to see it as an investment in a ministry He has prepared for us. Among other things, it's a ministry of hosting and hospitality, which we've always done, no matter where we've lived. We've often had college students live with us, especially back in our Illinois home, and right now, we have a young man living in our basement. On Saturday, we ended up hosting a meeting of 16 leaders here, when our reservation on a room at the Kemper Center got bumped. It worked out so beautifully, I was amazed!

This house also seems like it's a place that ministers all by itself. The view alone soothes the soul. Every day Lake Michigan looks so different; it reminds me of the infinite creativity of God. But the house itself has a warmth and a peace that is palpable. A neighborhood teen, a friend of the young man living in our basement, visited us for the first time one night, and he said to me, "You know, your house is a warm house. I noticed it when I was here for the estate sale. It has a very warm feel to it." He's not the only one that's made similar comments, but it was interesting because he didn't know our family, and he sensed it in the house before we ever moved into it.

I have to admit that I get concerned about appearances, though. Investing in my own home doesn't look like sacrificial giving; I get to benefit by living in a spacious and beautiful place. But I would gladly have bought the tiny cottage two streets over! For my frugal personality, it's hard to spend money on myself. I can gladly write checks to missions, but to have to write a large check for a roof--just a small roof, at that!--just for maintenance; there's nothing that feels like ministry about that. The Lord also knows how much I'd prefer the security of money in the bank, not invested in a house. But He's saying, "Trust me for the future. I'm asking you to view your home as something more than a place for your family to live. This is My work, and I want you to invest freely in it. Do not fear the judgments of others. I understand how this is a sacrifice for you."

It was my idea to sell our old house and downsize, so we could more easily live on less. It was practical. It's what we needed to do, if we were going to transition to a full-time pastor's salary and have some financial security. It was an old and dear friend, a priest who visited us from another state, who challenged us, ""But did God tell you to downsize? Maybe God doesn't want you to downsize." And he was right. God asked us to do something that, for me, was even harder.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Summer's End (Back to School)

It all starts today:  public school, our classical homeschooling co-op, the worship school and theater classes!

So here's the quick low-down for the school year.

The two oldest are not going to school, but working. B23 continues to work a couple shifts a week at a dollar store. He's not fast at unpacking boxes, but he's faithful to arrive at work at 5 a.m.! Blondechick21 just finished a summer of nannying for an attorney she knows from church, who invited her to come work part-time at her law firm this fall. She's hoping there will be enough filing and data entry to turn into a full-time position there! She's the only one not living at home; she's staying with a couple from our church who are graciously renting their second floor to her. It's a charming space, with alcoves and swing out windows, with views of lovely gardens in the neighbor's yard. If the bathroom weren't in the basement with the spiders and other creepy crawlies, it would be perfect. ;)

B19 is going to the School of Worship--the same school that Blondechick went to last year. It was such a rich year of discipleship and mentoring for her, and it seems like B19's class is going to be another great group of students. He anticipates lots of "bro time"--13 out of the 25 students are guys! He'll be in class from 8 to 3:30 daily--a big time commitment.

B15 will begin his sophomore year at the public high school. He's excited to be in Chorale this year--the school's top choir--and in Madrigals again. He took driver's ed this summer and has his permit, but  we are not sure about letting him get his license when he turns 16 in February--can't afford a sixth driver on our policy! We are hoping the two oldest can get some more hours at work and be able to start paying for their portion. Meanwhile, he has a ride to and from school with a neighbor who's a senior--a blessing that will net him several more hours of sleep a week compared to taking the bus.

Chicklet-almost-12 will be homeschooled again this year, but B9 is going to go to the local elementary school. We are in the same high school district in our new location, but it's a different elementary and middle school; the middle school has a terrible reputation, but the elementary school is outstanding, we hear. As I prayed about this year, I kept feeling a nudge from the Lord to put him there. 

It wasn't an easy decision, because I am excited about our next year with our homeschooling co-op! We were a Classical Conversations community last year, but to have more flexibility with what we do, we decided to become a co-op instead. We are still using the CC curriculum, with some modifications, but we are free to adjust the schedule, teachers and class sizes as we like. I'm especially eager to tweak the grammar and writing portion that I teach to 4th - 6th graders, to make the material more engaging, to focus on grammar usage as much or more than on memory work, and to include some more enjoyable writing assignments.

B9 has friends in the co-op too, which is the main reason why he didn't want to go to school. But I have a feeling that I'm going to be pretty distracted with house projects, at least for the fall, and I'm afraid I just won't have much patience or energy to sit with him and make sure he does his work. It's very tempting to delegate that task to someone else! Also Chicklet will get more done without him around, and she needs to have a good year, being in sixth grade, her first year of middle school. On the other hand, he will have homework, and there will be school communications and deadlines to stay on top of, and lunches to make and pay for, and all those things add up to a big chunk of time also.

I had trouble sorting out all the pros and cons, but couldn't get away from the feeling that it might just be a good thing for him to go. It will probably be more of a challenge for him than what I would be able to commit to providing this year, and I think he'll benefit from being pushed by someone other than me. A little positive peer pressure never hurt either, and he's quite social. We met his teacher and saw his classroom, and now he's pretty excited to start. We'll see how it goes!


Friday, August 29, 2014

This Week's Project

So. There is a newish roof on the main part of the house, but this balcony had some issues, we knew.





First the railing came down...and yesterday the roof came up!


It's a good thing we decided to go ahead and take care of it before winter, the roofer said. It was pretty wet underneath the tin.


A big pile of rusty tin roof!



They cleaned and dried everything, then put down a new layer of fiberboard.


Then new roofing material rolled out over that, and the seams were heated and melted together.


Since the balcony was in deep shade when they finished, I thought I'd wait to get a nice sunny picture of the new roof in the morning. But it's raining! Guess we got the new roof on just in time.


The new white metal railing will be installed next week; then the roofers will come back and lay flashing around each post to make sure all is water-tight.

The roof is an extra-thick rubber membrane with gritty sand-like stones as a top layer. It's fine to walk on and put patio furniture on, and hopefully light enough in color that it won't be too hot. We'll probably get an indoor/outdoor area rug or two, next spring, plus we'll need some more chairs. Always something!

But so glad we did it now.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Yes, But How Are You?

It has been a stressful summer.

Sold a house--very emotional and grief-filled.

Lived with friends--fabulously wonderful! (More on that.)

Bought a house--also very emotional, and a decision that was--and continues to be--faith-stretching.

Trying to get settled in new house--hasn't been easy. We keep getting distracted by house projects--floors, plumbing, kitchen, have to do something about the chimney and the tin roof/balcony--and can't seem to get unpacked. Plus some rooms don't exist yet--where do we put those belongings now?

So how am I doing, really?

And the answer is...

I feel quite well, considering everything. Though I am easily overwhelmed with all there is to do, I can only do what I can do in a day, and the rest can wait till tomorrow. We have the whole church coming over for a house blessing on Sunday afternoon. We still have boxes everywhere, and piles of stuff that I don't know where to put or haven't had time to sort, but it's okay. The house can be blessed, friends can visit and rejoice with us, and I'm not hiding the fact that this is my life right now!

Although the summer's events have been emotionally draining and I am mentally and physically very tired, I am buoyed up by a strong sense of rightness about it all. So many little confirmations make me believe that God is leading us down this path. It's been a rocky, uneven path, with overgrowth that we have to stop and clear away at points, but He keeps beckoning us to keep following, even with the occasional smiling reminder that He never promised it would be an easy path, but that it would be worth it in the end. He's used so many people to confirm and encourage us.

Here's one example--the friends who invited us to live with them while we didn't have a house. It ended up to be about 7 weeks total, and those weeks exactly coincided with the wife's recovery period from a sudden and serious abdominal surgery. She wasn't allowed to drive or go to work, and as a strong extrovert, it would have been a very difficult time for her. In her own words:

Your family's presence saved me from the loneliness and false sense of uselessness that would have hit me hard during my convalescence had it just been [my husband] and me.  You also saved him from being overwhelmed by having to meet all of his wife's needs for socializing.  Although he has never complained of being overwhelmed by me, I think I could have approached the limit.  When I was home on maternity leave with [her son], I became a garrulous maniac that made store clerks run the other way - really!  God was definitely providing for everyone.

For our family, staying with this couple felt like several weeks in a vacation condo with them! They have a beautiful, large, restful home. Our kids loved their dog, their neighborhood, their jokes and their food. They both love to cook, so every day we'd make meal plans early enough for someone to pick up groceries, and then we'd all help chop, prep, bake and/or grill. The husband is a massage therapist, so we took advantage of his conveniently located office (in the next room over from our bedroom), and the wife is a psychologist, which made our mealtime conversations extra-stimulating. The two husbands began most days with morning prayer together, and the wife and I have one of those friendships where we never, ever, run out of things to talk about, so it was fabulous for us both to have so much free time at the same time. Our time there was such a gift, and the timing was a strong confirmation that we had done the right thing to sell our old house when we did.

Another huge stressor this summer has been a situation at church. It has paralleled our move in some ways--emotionally draining, filled with grief, and faith-stretching. It's been the same kind of rocky, uneven, obstacle-ridden path, but God has been continually sending us the encouragements to hang in there. People we've been praying for have started coming to church, have started asking the right questions about their relationship with God, are being transformed in huge ways! Visitors have come--and come back! There has been a new freedom in our worship and in individual expression and gifting. This Sunday, one of our disabled youths is giving the sermon!, in partnership with an elder. There have been so many encouraging things alongside the challenges.

So I am well. Exhausted, but well. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 comes to mind:  "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

The previous verse also applies:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

It is the Lord who is sustaining me, empowering me, working through me and encouraging me!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gift

It's funny to me that I ended my last post with a paragraph about how this house feels like a gift. "Gift" is on my mind again today, but with a whole different set of thoughts, so I'm glad I already gave some context last time!

I was speaking to the Lord this morning about His gift, and wondering if He knew that it would require a good bit of maintenance. I suspect that He did, but one can't help but have a few mixed feelings about a gift house when one is expecting a plumber for the sixth workday in a row. At what point is it okay to look a gift house in the mouth? ;)

So we had this tiny leak in the basement. Just a few drops. It would get a little worse, then seem to dry up. We had plumbers here giving us quotes on the third floor attic project, and one of them spent a little time looking into it and gave us his free opinion that it must be the second floor shower drain. Probably the pan under the drain was made of lead--typical of an old house--and typically they crack.

He didn't get back to us about actually doing the work, so we called a friend's cousin that we used before in our old house. He came over and agreed that could be it, but he suggested we gamble that the lead pan was replaced in the 60's when the bathrooms were updated, and instead we try the much cheaper option of resealing the grout, which needed to be done anyway.

That didn't stop the leak, but in the process, he figured out it couldn't be the pan. It looked like it might be a bad pipe, though, so it would be a simple fix to just replace it--very accessible, right there in the ceiling of the basement.

Okay, I wasn't home for this part, but the pipe?  It was a boiler pipe, not a plumbing pipe. Oops. It began to shoot out water and awful black sludge that had built up in the system that we never would have known about otherwise. They had to move boxes and stuff in a hurry and they ruined a couple of my towels, but hey, in a plumbing emergency, who's going to call their wife and ask where the old towels are, right? (I've been rehearsing this regularly as part of my forgiveness process. :)

Anyway, it was a providential mistake in the end, because it meant we got the bad pipe replaced and the boiler flushed out too. But the plumber was stymied as to what was causing the leak. He found a sink drain problem in the half bath that needed attention, but it wasn't causing the leak. He finally had to open up a wall to see what was going on. Yes, he had to cut a hole--not one but two, as it turned out--in my 111-year-old plaster dining room wall. I couldn't watch. At least our new access panel will be covered up by bookshelves for the foreseeable future.

But there was nothing! Everything was bone dry where he expected to see water damage.

So they moved the fridge again, because the leak was directly under it, just to contemplate--and this time, they noticed a tiny bit of dampness around a crack in the vinyl tile underneath it. A little digging revealed that the subfloor underneath was completely rotten. It appeared that the fridge might be leaking, but we couldn't feel or see any water coming from it. Our plumber feared one last possibility--that "some redneck plumber" may have put plumbing where it didn't belong, under the lower cabinets. Since we were about to put in a new floor, he had to rule out that possibility, so he cut a little hole to investigate that and found no pipes. It had to be the fridge. (Later, after it was pulled out, it began leaking in earnest. It was nice to know for sure, finally!)

And that is why I had to buy a new refrigerator and a new floor. To put in the new floor, he had to move the 50-year-old stove out, and he begged me to just buy a new one already, especially since the warming oven above the stove didn't work. But I knew if I bought a new stove, I also had to buy a new range hood or a microwave to put in the gap where the old warming oven had been, so I resisted for awhile. Our renovating budget was supposed to go to the third floor project, not the kitchen! But after his dire predictions about how much it would cost to fix the old oven and how much longer it would last (not long), I gave in. God must want me to have new appliances.

Fridge, microwave, stove--check. I picked it all out in about 15 minutes, based on price, size--there were only about 3 refrigerators that would fit in our space--and the sales guy's recommendations. It all happened too fast. I had looked forward to planning my new kitchen! I thought I'd have lots of time to read appliance reviews and play around with ideas for the floor, countertops, backsplash and wall paint color. I've gotten better at winging it in many areas of my life, but I still enjoy planning, so I struggled with feeling a little out of sorts about the whole thing. I went to bed exhausted, worried that my quick decisions would not be good ones, wondering what God was doing with the rearrangement of priorities and refusing to think about the plumber's bill.

As it turns out, I'm thrilled with my appliances and my floor, and the plumber, an acquaintance who has become a friend after six days in our home, practically donated most of his services. Another gift!

In the midst of all this, I got a note from a friend who had spend a Sunday afternoon with us recently. She wrote, "Now I can see why God gave you guys that house. As we were driving away, our daughter said, "I never wanted to leave that deck." She spoke for all of us. You both have such a miraculous gift of hospitality--and I can't imagine any better setting for it. The wide Lake Michigan vista backdrop and the sheltered "secret garden" backyard--the vast and the protected together-- the two archetypes that speak most deeply to my heart, and I imagine I'm not alone. And I can't think of anyone who would use it better than your family."

Another friend, not normally a guy who speaks this way, told us in the midst of all the plumbing problems (and getting disappointing news and quotes on other work that needs to be done) that we should not let ourselves be discouraged, that we should still believe in God's purposes for us in this house.

Between the two of them and the Lord speaking to my own heart, I'm in a good place again. Even though the time spend on the kitchen set me back another week in the unpacking--and we scheduled a house blessing for this weekend! There will be boxes everywhere, but I'm eager to dedicate this gift back to the Lord, for His purposes and plans.

Old fridge and flooring

New fridge, new floor

Old stove with oven above

New stove and microwave (electrical outlet for microwave to be installed soon!)


Thursday, July 24, 2014

New House

So we have a new house. :)

Yes, we are living there now. We had to wait another week after we closed on July 14, to have the floors refinished and then wait for the fumes to diminish. We still have barely any furniture moved in, though--just beds, our dining room table, a couch and various chairs.

We've been gradually getting everything we had brought with us to the garage and basement of the friends we were staying with, plus I have most of my kitchen and pantry items out of storage and mostly unpacked now. But we still have three storage units full of the rest of our stuff that we need to bring in to the house! One more week till the floors are fully cured, so we tell ourselves it's probably better to wait and not cover them with boxes yet anyway. And hey, we've already paid for the storage.

What you really want to see is pictures.

Probably not smart to post a photo here of the front of the house, but here's the back. The part under the sloped roof is the original 1903 brick Victorian. The part under the balcony is a 1965 addition. This back side of the house faces east, toward Lake Michigan.


Next we have the view from our balcony on the night we moved in. There was a Twilight Jazz concert at the bandshell, and you can even see a sailboat on the lake--it's a little white dot near the cloud line.


Our garage and back yard--


The 1965 addition. The wall on the right is brick, the original exterior wall. We did not re-do these floors--they haven't been covered by carpet and still look pretty good. 


This is the view across the front of the house, standing in the living room, looking across the foyer into the dining room. That's a smaller foyer leading to the front door, to the left, and between it and the dining room there is a roomy closet. In this photo, the floor guys had just sanded the living room floor.

Our 111-year-old floors are old-growth Oregon fir.

Master bedroom floor before...


And after!


A few more "afters"--

Here's the finished dining room, with the original 1950's wallpaper that I'm keeping, for now!


The living room (we're keeping the blue for now)...


and the other bedrooms.

B23 will get the smallest bedroom. No wallpaper, faces the lake.

Chicklet11 and B9 are sharing this room for now. Rosebud wallpaper, faces the street.

Everybody loves the wallpaper in the bicycle room! B19 and B15 are sharing this room with a lake view for now.
In the interests of getting something posted today, I will save kitchen and bathroom photos for another post! But here are a couple shots of the attic, which has been a preoccupation lately, as we've been talking to contractors about finishing it.



We plan to put a master bedroom at this end, and a library/office for Father Rooster in the end with the stairway, with a dormer out toward the lake to create a nice seating/meeting area as well. We'll put a bathroom in the existing dormer area towards the middle, with the three low windows in the first photo above.

One last photo. While we were waiting on the floors, we had a friend pressure-wash and stain our deck!


This was taken at 9:30 a.m.--we have dappled sunlight on it almost all morning. (Isn't our neighbor's house beautiful?) We've spent a lot of time out here already.

The second floor balcony is going to be a great outdoor space as well, once we deal with the peeling paint on the tin roof; we've been consulting on that too. We think we'll cover it with plywood, a rubber membrane and indoor/outdoor carpeting. But first we'll wait for the dormer in the roof above to be completed, since they are likely to set up equipment on the balcony during construction. Dominoes!

So many dominoes! I don't want to move a lot of stuff into the basement until we have shelves set up, and I don't want to set up all the shelves until the floor is swept, and I can't sweep the floor until.... It's the same story with the garage, the mudroom and other areas I'm trying to organize.

So I'm off to organize! But first let me say how thankful I am, every morning, for the gift of this house. That word--"gift"--just keeps coming up for me, tied to the house and this whole move, in so many ways that I am still unwrapping and receiving almost daily, so to speak--it seems like there is more to this gift than I even imagined, and we are receiving gifts related to it, too. Our kids feel it too, even the ones who were the most reluctant to leave our other house, who were not excited about us buying an old house--they are falling in love with this house, the neighborhood, "Lake living," and something intangible about being here. I think it has to do with being where God wants us.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Finishing Up the School Year Strong

With all the house excitement, I‘ve neglected to post anything about the end of our school year, but it’s worth mentioning! We had two graduations—B19’s from high school, and Blondechick’s from the School of Worship. We had a nice closing program for the Classical Conversations group which Chicklet11 and B9 were in this year, in which I taught the Essentials class. B14 completed his first year of high school successfully. We had a graduation party for B19, after our move, at the house where we are staying, so that’s done. Overall, it was a good school year indeed!

B19 is our first “homeschool graduate.” I have to use quotation marks because the irony is that he really wasn’t homeschooled at all for high school. For 9th grade, he was at a Christian school. For 10th and 11th grades, he was enrolled in a public virtual school; he took two college classes as a junior as well. For his senior year, we planned for him to take two classes at the public high school and two classes at the local college, in order for him to graduate from high school with about 18 college credits. He stuck to that plan first semester, but second semester he ended up taking only one class at college so that he could add another high school “class”—an internship at an elementary school, since he’d like to become a teacher for that age group. He enjoyed those fifth graders very much!

We didn’t do the homeschool graduation ceremony, since he really wasn’t part of the homeschool group. We had an open house, and we created a diploma, although we still have to print it out and give it to him. (Minor details!) I also need to create an official transcript for his high school years, adding in all the college classes he took and also his one homeschool class—a PE credit I gave him for all of his running, lifting and working out almost daily, for the last three years. Easiest class I ever taught!
He took this lovely lady (a friend from his church) to prom on his 19th birthday!
His immediate plans are to work this summer—he seems to have a niche as a shoe salesman, working at two jobs this summer, having left his first job awhile back, but all three at shoe stores!—and then go to the School of Worship in the fall--the same nine-month program that Blondechick just graduated from. While there, he may be discerning a call into ministry as well. He had a great year helping with the Campus Life group at his high school; he's led a few kids to the Lord and prayed for scores after sharing his testimony at the Christian school he used to attend, and also at two Youth for Christ fundraising banquets. Teacher, pastor, church musician…he’ll probably end up being all of these things in church settings, but as for a career and where he’ll pursue further education, we will be praying for God’s direction during the coming school year.

Blondechick had a wonderful year at the School of Worship. She grew so much in her faith, her knowledge of Scripture, her awareness of God’s presence and voice, and in her musical abilities.  She was required to take keyboarding and music theory, and be on a worship team. She learned chords and chord structure so she could accompany her team on the keyboard, and that helped her learn songwriting as well. Now that the school has ended and she’s no longer on a regular worship team, she’s been finding joy in writing her own songs.

Blondechick performing her own song at the Songwriting Showcase


 She’s a little unsure as to what comes next for her. She doesn’t want to return to college—she has no career goal that requires a degree, she really didn’t enjoy taking classes, and the college environment was not a good one for her. She’s nannying three days a week this summer and working part-time at a law office too. She hopes to be able to afford a small apartment, and see what God has in store for her! She and B19 have been attending the church that is affiliated with the School of Worship, where there are many young people their age, and we are so thankful for the good friends, pastors and mentors they have there. God provides!

B14 had a successful year in the public school, finishing up with good grades and nice affirmation from his teachers. This past spring, he was selected to be part of an improv team that was preparing for a big competition which took place this past weekend. His team finished somewhere in the middle of the ten teams that competed, but it was a lot of fun for him.  Chicklet11 and I also enjoyed the day-long event. B14 was invited to be part of an All-Star Jazz Choir that is rehearsing and performing this summer, and this week he's at an overnight camp with our Christian theater group, which was a meaningful experience for hm last year. When he returns, he’ll start a summer PE class at the public school. We are thankful that B23 is able to help with all the driving for his activities!


 Chicklet and B9 got off easy this spring, since we were busy packing for our move. Our Classical Conversations group kept us on track through the end of April, and I was just thrilled with how much they learned this year through that program alone! After that, they had a minimum amount of reading and math to get done each morning, and we’ve been sticking to that, some days, even this summer. They have handled the move so well, and they love being at our friends' house. They've been been busy playing together happily and creatively, seeing friends, and being outside. This past week, they’ve been making movies and camping out in the backyard.

I leave you with a short video of them performing a groovy little number at the CC closing program. It was their favorite "history sentence" put to music, and Chicklet made up the choreography!

video